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Lenovo has unveiled its first foldable smartphone, the moto razr. As the name suggests, the design is a callback to the wildly successful 2004 Motorola flip phone. The 2019 model retains a flip phone style, but with a single foldable touchscreen inside rather than a screen and keypad design. The handset will be available exclusively with Verizon Wireless and will go on sale in early 2020 for $1,500.


Foldable razr could be the way back to relevancy for Lenovo

Foldable smartphones have not got off to the best start in 2019. After their unveils just prior to MWC in February, both Samsung and Huawei's new devices hit problems. Samsung's Galaxy Fold had major technical issues with the hinge and frame, while Huawei's Mate X got swallowed up in the US trade dispute and was pulled from several operators' 5G launch plans in the summer. Foldable technology entered 2019 with a lot of hype and has massively underdelivered so far. Lenovo's moto razr could see foldable start 2020 on the right foot. And most importantly, in Omdia's view, Lenovo is using foldable technology to do something completely different to its competition.

Both the Samsung and Huawei foldable smartphones were based on putting a tablet-sized display into a regular smartphone-sized device to give users the option of using a larger area for watching video, playing games, and so on. Instead, Lenovo is using the foldable technology to fit a regular smartphone-sized display into a smaller overall package when folded. This not only gives Lenovo a very different device to market, but it also highlights that a foldable smartphone future in the long term will have multiple different form factors.

The device is not without its drawbacks, however. It has a much smaller battery than other foldable phones – or even other high-end phones, it uses a mid-range processor (the Qualcomm Snapdragon 710), and it does not come with 5G support. The absence of premium features such as these in a $1,500 handset is very noticeable, and Lenovo is betting heavily on the novelty of the foldable display as well as the nostalgia of the razr design.

This is a big risk for Lenovo, and one that it badly needs to win. Lenovo's smartphone unit sales have dropped in recent years as brands like Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo have begun to spread outside of China and are gobbling up market share that Lenovo once held in India and the rest of Central Asia. Lenovo is holding steady in both North and South America, but it has less than 5% market share in North America. Lenovo needs this razr to reignite North American consumers' desire for the moto brand. The lack of 5G will hurt Lenovo in terms of getting operators fully behind the device, and the US is a strongly operator-centric market, so Omdia is cautious about the prospects for the new razr.